Monday, March 12, 2012

Chapter 1 of Volume 2, Chris and Charlotte Vs. the World: Always Arriving

Have I lost track of the Wong genealogy? Why, yes I have. Thanks for noticing. Here it is laid down concretely so that I don't screw it up again.

Generation 0: David II (b. 1983), Henry III (b. 1990), Jenny (b. 1993), May (b. 1995), Jason II and Amy Wong (b. 1997). Unless I adjust birth years to take birthdays into account.
Generation -1: Henry Wong II. [Mr. Wong, Wong Ng Le, Ning Wong, The Furious Fist.]:1(945--); (by Wong Kwan Le) Christopher Wong (1959--1975; 2011--); Charlotte Wong (1961--1975; 2011--)
Generation -2: Wong Da Wei [David Wong I] (1910-1950), Wong Kwan Le (1912—1950, sometime after 1984--present); Wong Yili Shabai (Elizabeth Wong) 1914--1934).
Generation -3: Wong Ng Le [Henry Wong I], 1862--1964
Generation -4: Wong Xiān Qū ('Pioneer' Wong, hence 'Argonaut Wong,' hence Jason Wong I. It's a pseudonym, of course) 1810--1890.

Chapter 1: Always Arriving

Christopher and Charlotte Wong. If you said it, what would you visualise? Chris had some ideas, about short kids with glasses who lived in neat little houses that smelled of rice, with good grades and odd accents and a habit of disappearing into the woodwork. Not trailer park trash, big for their age, never mind their Goodwill clothes, with just a little sweep in their step, because they knew how to handle themselves, and because quiet kids got beat up out there beyond the trailer stands on the marshy riverside. But, then, they weren’t actually Chinese, although Chris had given up pointing that out early. They were half Chinese. Not that anyone in their classes could figure that out. Or, if they did, they put their fingers in the corner of their eyes and chanted a rhyme that made Chris mad clear through. That was why he’d given up pointing it out a long time ago, and tried to skate by with just not looking Chinese. Or, at least, not looking that Chinese.
It didn’t hurt that their father didn’t fit anyone’s impression of what being Chinese looked like, and, in fact, was quarter-Indian.  That is, it didn’t hurt for looks, because Dad was big and wide, and had almost-curly hair, and that they’d both inherited. For other purposes, Chris had learned that he was even better off not mentioning his Indian blood than he was his Chinese. Let people figure it out for themselves. Around Hope, that was a secret a lot of people kept, Chris’s Mom used to say, though mostly they didn’t have Chinese last names.
One thing that everyone did know about people named “Wong” was that when a Wong kids’ Mom died, the family would take care of them. Family was important. There would be an apartment over a Chinese restaurant or a laundry or a grocery store somewhere, and cousins, although no-one ever worried about that part.
And it turned out that that part was true. Chris had never expected it. He had hoped and believed with all his might that the doctors would do something, that his Mom wouldn’t die. Instead, that last day, when the doctor came in to tell his Mom that chemotherapy wouldn’t help, and she’d heard that there was no point in going on, she’d told them that they would be going to stay with their uncle, that a lady would be there soon to make the arrangements.
So there they were; none of the stereotypes, though. Instead, they were standing in front of a three story house somewhere in Philadelphia. The cab driver had said that the address was in “West Philadelphia,” but Chris wasn’t sure whether that was a town or a neighbourhood, and, frankly, if he’d been given a map of the Earth he would still have put his pin down one planet over, for all he knew Philadelphia. Or Pennsylvania. Or the United States, for that matter. Heck, Chris couldn’t even find his way around Vancouver, and that city was hardly more than a hundred miles from his hometown of Hope, British Columbia. His sister put her bag down on the rain-wet walk and turned to half face him.
“Let me have a look –phew.” Charlotte reached into the pocket of her over-sized Mustang Floater and felt around. The first thing she pulled out was half the ham and cheese sandwich that Chris had bought for her from the funny vending machine at the Greyhound station in Pittsburgh for over half the travelling money that Mom had given them. “I guess I don’t need to hang onto this any more.”
Chris looked at her, trying to be stern like Mr. Vezina when he caught kids playing on the river banks. “You should have finished that, Char.”
“No, big bro, you should have.”
“I…,” Chris tried to find an explanation, but he couldn’t.
His sister could, putting on her Gramma voice. “Wongs try too hard.”
“I know you are, but what am I?” Chris answered faintly, because hunger was rising in his stomach so fast that he wasn’t sure that he wouldn’t just fall over right here.
“Anyway,” Charlotte continued, “Here’s what we need.” She held out an almost-empty container of Tic-Tacs, three white grains of peppermint stuck at the bottom. “Put out your hand.”
Oh.” Chris could feel himself blushing. His mouth felt as sticky and rude as his eyelids. Of course he had bad breath. He put the breath mints in his mouth, sucking fiercely. He wanted to make a good impression on his uncle, with his imposing house and beautiful garden that looked like it had come from the factory in a wrap and had never been touched by actual people.
“Ahem.” Chris looked up. The girl with the impossible blue skin and auburn hair that they had seen at the door when they arrived was standing next to them. Chris looked for a moment, and found words. “Hi.” It left him feeling stupid. Hadn’t he just introduced himself? On the other hand, the world was so strange tonight, and he was so hungry and tired and sore as to be floating half in a dream. Maybe he was remembering out of a dream.
Unbelievably, the girl smiled. Her teeth, at least, were a normal colour of white. “So you said. Chris, Charlotte, my name is Rafaella, and I’m going to be your bellhop tonight.” She lifted Charlotte’s bag in one hand, and reached out for Chris’ grip with the other. He couldn’t find it in himself to resist.
They followed Rafaella in the blue front door. Inside was a living room, close to the opposite of the garden. Couches with softly rounded wood coffee tables framed a big Persian carpet on the floor. Brightly coloured books and a few toys were piled on the coffee tables, and the wall in front of the stairwell supported a hanging that almost looked like the carpet. The other walls were undecorated, with bright, cheerful wallpaper. On the stairwell, sitting so that he could look under the railing, was a tall, Chinese boy. Chris could see the family resemblance by now.
He said, “Hey, you must be Christopher and Charlotte! I’m your cousin Jason. Well, not exactly your cousin, but—“
The blue girl interrupted. “Family Tree Activity Time is after dinner, Jas.”
“Cool! We’re having dinner again? Can it be pizza?”
“Do I look I’m even vaguely in charge around here?”
“Never mind, Rafe. I’ll come down and see you guys in a minute, soon as it’s safe.”
“Okay,” the blue girl said, “I have no idea what to do with your bags anyway, so I’ll just put them here by the stairs, and show you guys to the kitchen.”
Rafe led them past the stairs and through a very short corridor opening off on one side to some kind of laundry or utility room, and on the other to stairs going down. And then they went on into the  kitchen, and Chris got a sense of where Jason was coming from.
The kitchen was huge, with, apparently, two of everything: two stoves, two refrigerators, two tables, and also two of each kind of girl. The blonde girl that they had seen at the door greeting Rafaella was there, crouching in front of one of the fridges, taking lettuce and such out of an open crisper door and piling it on the counter next to her. Another blonde, a little taller and with long hair, and, even Chris could tell, a nicer outfit, was coming through a door that must connect to the utility room with bags of frozen hamburger buns dangling in both hands. A tall Chinese girl with her hair done up almost like James Dean or the Fonz, but a little fuller and more feminine, somehow, was pulling a frying pan out of a cupboard. Her sister was headed from other fridge to the table closest to the door with an armful of condiments. Including, Chris was startled to see, a bottle of Gramma’s clear, golden, prune chutney relish. A tall White boy with the longest, wildest hair that Chris had seen in four days hovered, obviously self-conscious and painfully awkward, between the table and the counter, close to the girl with the condiments in her arms.
And, in the middle, a head and a little more shorter than anyone else in the room, was an  older Chinese woman, standing side on to the counter so that she could appraise Chris and Charlotte even as her sure hands breaking frozen beef patties off a pile in front of her and neatly restacked them. “Charlotte, Christopher. Welcome. Meet Emily Neilsen, her sister Jamie, your cousins May and Amy Wong. This big lout is John Roy, and I’m Mindy Wong.” The last came out with a little tightening of the voice, and Chris made a mental note to call her ‘Mrs. Wong.’ Not that he ever felt comfortable calling adults by their first names. “My husband will be back shortly, and we’ll have some dinner ready in a minute. Please, sit and make yourselves at home!”
John added, “There’ll be a quiz later.”
“Emily, Jamie, May, John, Mrs. Wong. Easy.” Hopefully, there wouldn’t be a quiz. He’d already forgotten the blue girl’s name, and the only reason he remembered the name of his cousin on the stairs was because he had the same name as his grandfather. Chris made his way to the table, but couldn’t quite bring himself to follow instructions. “Are you sure that I can’t help?” Charlotte gave him a look as she sat down, mouthing, ‘Trying…’ He noticed the wild-haired boy grin at that.
“Not tonight, Chris. I know that you’ve come a long way, and you must be very tired. Do you like chai?”
“I don’t know, I-“
“I would love to have some chai, Mrs. Wong,” Charlotte said.
“Coming right up, dear. John, please sit down before someone runs into you.”
Chris sat down and bent over to speak to his sister. “What’s chai?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “I’m being polite. Take notes.”
Beside them, John pulled out his chair just about as loudly as it was possible for anyone to do that and slumped into the chair, head down conspiratorially to join theirs. “Stay out of the way of Mrs. Wong’s posse, Chris. In this kitchen, you’d think you’d time travelled to 1950 instead of 2011.”
Amy Wong finished putting the condiments out, and leaned against John’s chair, her hand gently slapping him on the head. At table level, Chris could see her hips pressed against John’s side, although it would be invisible to Mrs. Wong. Or, actually, Chris suspected, Amy thought her mother couldn’t see. “Yeah, you men  folk just sit tight there while the girls get you your pipes and slippers and rustle up some Jello salad.” John smiled the kind of smile that Chris had seen a few times at school, and Chris felt the usual stab of jealousy. Chris had never had a girlfriend.
“Time travelled?” Chris asked.
“No wonder everyone looks so different,” Charlotte said. “Can I get my hair like-“
“Wait. We took some kind of time machine from 1975 to-“
John held up his hand, and gold flecks glittered in his eyes for a moment. “Hold up. Yes. You guys took a trip through time four days ago in a time machine, probably disguised as a 1955 Cadillac Fairlane. However, it wasn’t really time travelling, because your lifelines were moved from November, 1975 to December, 2011, so it’s more like you lived through 36 years really fast.”
“And the difference would be?”
“Strictly technical, but it could be important…”
Amy was back, leaning over her boyfriend. “John, remember. Important details first. Because-“
Charlotte interrupted. “Wait, what about our friends? What about Dad? How is Dad going to find us?”
John’s face hardened. “Oh, don’t you worry about your Dad finding you. Or us. That’s why there’s machine gun turrets in the attic.”
Chris looked back, holding his face expressionless. Oh, I am the inscrutable boy, all right, he thought to himself. He understood where John was coming from. Chris knew that his Dad was a Triad boss, dangerous for anyone to know, with many enemies that just happened to include everyone in this house except for Chris and Charlotte. Charlotte didn’t, though.
“What are you saying about Dad?”” she blurted.
And then Mrs. Wong was standing next to her, with three comically oversized green cups of steaming white fluid that looked like a cross between milk and tea, and smelled like Gramma’s baking. Chris teared up. Gramma was dead. And so was Mom. But Mrs. Wong was talking. “You have the Wong hair, Charlotte, just like Amy and Jenny. Do you like what Amy’s done with hers? We can do that for you, or we can get you a pageboy, sort of like May’s, although May has my hair.” Mrs. Wong had picked up a framed photograph that had been lying on the table for some reason and flicked her hand over as she spoke, putting it down in front of Charlotte to show model haircuts. What kind of coincidence was that? Or was this some kind of weird 2010 technology? Or had John said 2011? Chris held his breath, hoping that Charlotte would let herself be distracted.
“I could get any of these?” Charlotte asked. “How much would that cost? Could I, could I get it dyed?”
“Don’t worry about that,” Mrs. Wong said. “Just do this with your hand to browse.” Definitely some weird technology, Chris thought. On the stove, the hamburger patties were sizzling, and Chris’s stomach launched into a rumble that seemed like it would never end. He picked up the chai and took a cautious sip. It was good. Mrs. Wong turned her head. “May? Could you get the hamburger patties, please?”
John leaned over to Chris and muttered, “My psychic powers tell me that  you’re going to Hell, Chris. Or clothes shopping with, like, six girls.” In spite of his gnawing hunger, Chris couldn’t stop himself from smiling.”
Amy appeared over John again, her fists knotted to her hips just like Charlotte when she was pretending to be mad. Could gestures be hereditary? “Very funny, John. Maybe Chris likes clothes shopping.”
“No, I think your boyfriend really is psychic.”
Amy broke into a loopy smile. “That’s not news. Now if only he could figure out to generate energy blasts on his own.”
“What?” Chris asked.
“You know, John’s superpowers.”
“Again. What?” Chris felt a moment of panic. Just because he didn’t like his Dad any more didn’t mean that he was going to blow his secrets to folks on the right side of the law.
“John has superpowers. I have superpowers. Everyone in this room has superpowers. Family, friends. It’s the fashion of the day!”
John smirked. “’I was wearing an onion on my belt,’” in the way that people do when they’re making a reference that you’re expected to get.
Chris shook his head. “I don’t have superpowers.”
Amy nodded her head back. “Yes, you do. You just don’t know about them yet.”
“But-“ Chris protested.
“We’re a superpowered family. Have been since Great-Great Grandpa Jason came to Oregon in 1835. You know that.”
“Yeah, but I’m not supposed to say. If the RCMP ever connected Dad with-“ And it dawned on Chris that he was talking about things that had happened 37 years ago, and that he had no idea if his Dad’s secrets were still secret. Heck, Dad would be a hundred years old by now, which was old, even for an Eight Spirit Kung Fu master.
Then Cousin May slipped a plate with two hamburger patties centred on the kind of big, fluffy buns that you got when you went into a classy restaurant and had to order hamburgers, and all time for conversation passed.
When Chris came up for air, he saw that Mrs. Wong was watching him, her cup held just below a slightly smiling mouth. “You have a better appetite than John’s, Chris.”
“Natch. Look at him. He’s going to be huge.” John said in his ear.
“You’re not exactly small, yourself, John,” Mrs. Wong said.
“Yeah, but Sovereign is, what, 6’2”? I bet Chris is going to be 6’4”. As tall as Henry.” Chris shivered.
A voice came from the utility room. “Did I hear my name?” A grey-and-brindle Huskie dog came skittering into the kitchen ahead of the voice, running under the table. Chris felt wet fur brush against his leg, before the dog burst out of the other side, right beside Charlotte, stopping at May’s feet, tail wagging. Charlotte reached out and scratched it at the shoulder.
Mrs. Wong answered her husband and then said to Charlotte, “I’ll get you a wet wipe, dear.” Charlotte looked at her hand, as though just realising that she’d got dog hair all over the hand that she was eating burgers and salad with. Chris looked back at the door to the utility room as his Dad walked into the room.
Or, on second glance, a stranger who looked very much like his Dad. A big man, so big that he almost framed the door with his shoulders and his head, a little overweight, wearing strange, tiny, future glasses and wearing a blue and grey outfit that was presumably the twenty-first century’s answer to a jogging suit. Chris could tell at just from the way that the big man turned slightly coming through the door that he was an Eight Spirit Master. It had been six months since Chris had watched his father fight his nephew, the Furious Fist, on the news hour; but, somehow, 37 years had passed for Henry Wong. This was just too weird.
Even weirder, instead of giving some bombastic, superheroe-y speech, Mr. Wong just said, “Christopher, Charlotte? Have you had something to eat? Because something sure smells good. Scoot over, John.”
Mr. Wong sat down between John and Chris, took a bun off the plate in the middle, spread it from the jar of prune chutney, and took a big bite. His wife materialised at his side, with a wallet in one hand and a mug of chai in the other, this one blue and grey, its glaze chipped here and there, although Chris could still read the motto facing him, “World’s Greatest Dad (Can I Have a Pony?)” Setting his bun down, Mr. Wong took the mug in one hand and the wallet in the other.
May sat down in the seat her mother had just vacated, put her elbows on the table and leaned her chin into her hands. “What about your diet, Dad?”
“Half a bun isn’t going to ruin my diet, May-May,” he answered. “Especially not after your dog decided that we had to run down a taxicab.” With that, though, he stood up. “Chris? Would you like to come with me?”
Chris shivered. What was going to happen to him? He picked up his mug of chai, got up, and walked after Mr. Wong, who gave him an appraising, sidelong glance. “Who’s been teaching you the Eight Spirit wudan, Chris?”
“I . . .” Chris started, but there was no good answer to that question. Certainly not the correct one. He didn’t want to get Master Lee in trouble. If Master Lee were still alive, he reminded himself, although the thought only made him sadder.
“Never mind,” Mr. Wong continued. “Abbott Feng has instructed me to train you and Charlotte in the Eight Spirit school, so it’s just as well you have a head start.” They were in the utility room, now, and Mr. Wong led them through the door onto a half-enclosed back porch. The taxicab driver was waiting there.
“Hey, Brad,” Mr. Wong said, making an inviting, circular motion with his mug. “Last chance  to join us for a cup. My wife brews a mighty good cup of chai.”
“No way, Fist,” the taxidriver said. “I’m afraid that I’ll end up holding the cup for months, too nervous to make a date to actually drink it.”
“What?” Mr. Wong asked.
“Bit of an in-joke there. Never mind. You got your nephew and your niece, and I got my fare and a nice tip. Call it square, unless you give the kids trouble, in which case you’ll have to reckon with the Bulldozer.” The taxidriver flexed his arm muscles, which were as impressive as that Austrian guy, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bet he’d look pretty scary these days, Chris thought. Unless he was working as a pro wrestler or something.
“Just a minute,” Mr. Wong said. “What about the Mr. Big who was paying you to stake out the bus terminal?”
“What about him?” Bulldozer replied. “He said I should pick up two Eurasian kids arriving on the bus from Vancouver on Thursday. Gave me a picture of two Wong kids. Well, Mr. Big might be Mr. Big, but he don’t know what’s going on,” Bulldozer said with a manic grin, making a forward motion with his head and then tapping it with the palm of his hand, making an unmistakeable ‘walking into the wall’ sound as he did so. “They’re going to be early. See how I figured that out about you guys? Most people wouldn’t notice something like that. And my instructions only said I had to pick them up on Thursday.
Another look, another manic grin. “And I got a good deal on the cab for three days, so when I picked them up on Wednesday, I was free and clear to take ‘em to you instead of Super Chickenhawk, whoever he is. Are we allowed to think around here?”
“God, Brad,” Mr. Wong started. “You took this guy’s money to do a job. What if he’s Doctor Destroyer or something?  I mean, I’m glad you didn’t kidnap Chris and Charlotte, and you certainly shouldn’t be taking jobs from chickenhawks. You have to think about the risks you’re taking.”
But Bulldozer shook his head. “Save it for someone who cares, Wong. Trust me. I’ve been around the block a few times. I know what I’m doing. Now I gotta get going. You can make some serious money at this gig!”
With that, the big cabbie jumped down from the porch onto the walk and left the hard. Mr. Wong and Chris watched him go, sipping their chai, until he was out of the yard and the too-quiet sound of a future car starting up came from the alleyway behind.
“And that, Chris, is your brain on drugs,” Mr. Wong said.
“Really?” Chris asked.
“Little of that, little of the old Oppositional Defiant Disorder, little of the old closet case, all wrapped up in just about the goofiest smalltime supervillain I know. Now let’s go inside so your cousins can interrogate you.”

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